30 June 2008
We're supposed to re-do the kitchen floor and there are other projects around the store we'd like to tackle. We'll see how that goes.
I plan to live like a real person: dinner at 8. Bed by 10.
House work. Yard work. With any luck I can stretch that last paycheck out the whole week.
I might get the brushes and canvases out. Do a little painting.
Maybe go out into country. Get into some bar fights.
You know. Relax.
29 June 2008
so just before our time off we've had two bits of attention from the media.
First, we've had a gentleman from a well-regarded food blog visit us for the last several weeks. He's in town for a computer-related reason and he's been impressed enough with us to post the following post on us.
www.offthebroiler.wordpress.com article on us
not too shabby.
Second, Mr Aiken from the Free Times wanted to include us in the upcoming "25 best of something or other". Despite flounder not being in the season we like it to be in, he wanted to showcase our 3-Flavored Flounder. As delicious as this dish is, we don't have it in until Alex sees that the lady flounders have rid themselves of their stock of eggs that fill their flat, flounder bellies despite how unpalatable that is to a diner. So if you saw the article and decided that the only dish that will satisfy you is the flounder, please call us to see if it's available.
Here's a picture of freelance photographer, John, snapping pictures.
So here's the thing. For whatever valid reasons, and they were valid reasons, we've had to downsize an employee. This doesn't happen much here at Baan Sawan but we found it unavoidable and now here I am, at home: waiting on vegetables to roast, wild rice to cook, tuna to sear and red wine to cauterize the wounds.
We tend to concentrate on the person who's lost their job, as well we should. They've put themselves on the line and found themselves, for all intents and purposes, rejected. This is not an easy place to be.
Fact of the matter is, contrary to the opinions of the servers, I have a bit of a heart. This is not where I wanted to be either and these are the feelings I wanted to avoid. The other end of the rope isn't always the most comfortable place to be and the remnants of genuine emotion the last twelve years of restaurantin' has allowed me to keep are still challenged when bad news goes to good people.
But business is business. Otherwise we'd pay more than we can afford, we'd hire everyone we liked and we'd give away our food, wine, and time.
Responsibility is a bit of an odd thing. The more we have of it, sometimes the freer we become. Yet, in many ways, the more beholden we are to policy, to expectation, and to business. Within the construct of the restaurant I rose through the ranks. I began as a server with a personal, financial stake in the project. A share holder, if you will. Time passed until I took control of more responsibility partially because I was family but mostly because I was the only person who gave enough of a damn to do so. And that was because it's family. Gumption goes a long way and there came a point when I had enough of it to volunteer for more responsiblity.
So here I am, with beverages to decide upon, servers to hire and schedule fairly, deliveries on which to wait and put away, menus to print and collate, a dining room on which to keep an eye, and fires to put out. Much of the rest can be spread around but these are most of the things for which I'm responsible. This leaves me with two free hours before work (between 7.30am and 9.30am), two hours in the afternoon (2.30pm-4.30pm) and then whatever I'm left with after work (usually 11pm until I go to sleep around 12.30.)
My time to myself is so valuable. Cooking calms me. Reading. Practicing piano. Just being around Leigh is like an emotional salve. But she's out of town this weekend and my cooking is done.
I like a quiet evening when I don't have to leave someone in tears because I've had to downsize them. Yet here I am. Post just that.
All I can think of is the swollen and scratchy-eyed night that awaits the fallen, perhaps cursing us and/or themselves. Maybe they're unable to sleep, their minds buzzing with where they might apply next. Maybe, as their breath hitches, they wish they'd never met us and put themselves through the trials our unique brand of managing demanded.
I almost wanted to the response to me to be hostile. Hostility is an emotion I can handle. But the response was quiet. And hurt. And it left me with a pit in my stomach that aches when I remember the deed.
But I remind myself that nobody was ever foolish enough to say that this would be easy.
27 June 2008
In order to illustrate how small a restaurant we are and how tricky seating large parties can be, I've put together this almost-exactly-to scale layout of Baan Sawan.
So, our default floor plan is this:
And the following shows how many we can comfortably squeeze in, under the very best of circumstances:
I went down to Charleston on Tuesday for a tasting of Domaine Leroy Burgundies, white and red. I love and hate tasting wine somewhere different, whether it be in town or out. I love feeling that I’ve traveled but I don’t care for the actual driving (I wouldn’t normally drive down a tight alley at 70mph. Driving between semi-trucks is like that except the walls have minds of their own.) and the feeling that I’m out of place is accentuated by established groups of colleagues and my own shyness.
Anyway, I drove down and had lunch at Café Paradiso (two chili dogs, since I’m so budget-minded lately - I even borrowed Leigh’s Prius to save on gas) then found my way to Social, a wine bar that opened up about a year and a half ago. It’s a nice looking bar with one of those wine-pressure-spigot systems that keeps things fresh.
Lined up along the bar, very inconspicuously, were the eight bottles for which I’d driven nearly two hours to taste. The white wines were a ‘99 St. Aubin 1er Cru, a ‘98 Bourgogne Blanc and a ‘97 Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes. Of these the one that struck me most was the ‘97 Meursault. It had lovely, dried floral notes to the nose, a firm mouth-feel and a nice, clean, minerally finish.
The red wines were a Bourgogne Rouge, a Cote de Beaune Villages and a Monthelie (all from 2000), a ‘93 Saint Aubin, and a ‘78 Beaune. Of the 2000’s I particularly enjoyed the Cote de Beaune Villages. It had a nice, perfumey, earthy nose and a really silky mouth-feel. The Saint Aubin was quite nice with lots more earth and strawberry to the nose and a bright, silky and focused feel. I’ve had one other St. Aubin (at a quarter the cost) and I could taste the quality jump. The Domaine Leroy was much richer without being bigger, if that makes sense. The flavors were more defined and focused. Good stuff.
And, of course, the biggest draw for me was the ‘78 Beaune. Right away, as it poured, you could see its age. It poured an almost transparent, beautiful rust color. When I brought it up to my nose I was amazed out how young it smelled. It had a wild, rich, earthy nose and a similarly youthful vibrancy to the flavors. Some sour cherry in there and a great, long finish. Given how present it was I have to wonder what it was like when it was bottled. Undrinkable? One hears that bandied about: This is undrinkable for a few more years. But for this to be so bright now, it had to come down from something.
This is the sort of stuff I find interesting.
23 June 2008
New to me, at least. If you haven't seen this, or the preceding ones, take four and a half-minutes out of your life to watch this one, at least.
It fills me with a melange of emotions, none of which upset me. I walked away from the video with the sense that it was, in its way, beautiful and filled with hope. It seems as though he's gotten the whole world (or representatives from over 42 countries, at least) to get behind an idea. The next time that happens will probably be some sort of attack from outer space. It's a toss-up between extra-terrestrials and an asteroid. Ooh. Maybe a comet.
Here's a link to the "About Matt" portion of his website: About Matt
Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.
21 June 2008
While this is only marginally restaurant, food, and or beverage related (in that it happened in Publix), it's irritating and illuminating and if one person reads this and sees a flicker of this in themselves and changes for the better then this digression would be worth it. And I'm aware of how many "ands" are in that sentence.
So I'm in line behind a family in the express lane. This seemingly textbook family consisted of a mother, father, a boy of about 8 and a girl of about 11. They'd gotten one of those hybrid buggy/stroller things and, as I stood behind the father, I observed him unload the buggy onto the conveyer belt and then nonchalantly push the buggy/stroller back out into the store, parallel to the sale shelf. I watched with furrowed brow and wondered if I should do or say something when his daughter asks him if they should take the cart back up to the front. The father tells her not to worry about it and not too much later an elderly employee finds and walks off with it.
Why? Oh, oh, why? Not only is there the issue of how he just jettisoned his cart but the more pressing and depressing issue is that of his poor daughter, a youth still absorbing and learning the finer points of morality and ethics, who seems to know the right thing to do but whose instincts are being smothered by a dense and selfish father.
I wonder, from time to time, about how a sense of entitlement seems to be spreading through the land. A tributary of this is the attitude of "not my problem." And that day in the grocery store it seems as though I saw how it could be planted and fostered. Here is this flower struggling to grow up right but the vine of her father's sense of "not my problem" is choking her and I'm so afraid that she'll grow up to be the kind of healthy, strong young woman striding carefree in her work-out clothes ahead of the elderly grocery employee pushing and unloading her groceries while she's on her cell phone.
Grocery stores, it seems, are a good place to observe the spectrum of humanity. I suppose the possession of a buggy is like a car: we feel as though we have a bit of our own property and, therefore, become more comfortable and let more of our personality show. This misconception of being separated from polite society is most easily seen in cars when a driver, despite being behind clear glass, feels isolated enough to pick their nose at a stop sign.
So it seems in grocery stores I see so many people walk by, and even over, dropped packages of fuselli, toppled display stands, and fallen oranges. Their reasoning, I can only guess, is that some one else will pick it up. Picking that up is not their job.
Now, if I saw somebody having a heart attack I wouldn't race over, crack their chest open, find the blocked artery and restore blood flow to the heart. Not my job. No reperfusion expert am I, but I sure as hell know how to pick up a display stand that's fallen over into the aisle. I can make things tidy and help fulfill the purpose of that display. I can save the person whose job it might be to right said stand the trouble with no more effort than what I would spend in picking up and deciding against buying that jar of Kalamata olives, since I just remembered I still have some left.
Why can we be so selfish? How can we so easily forget that the world consists of more than just ourselves and that the person whom we might inconvenience today may well have an opportunity to inconvenience us in the future? Trite as it may be, we're all in this together.
I'm no saint. I'll admit that to annotate your probably thinking it.
But I try to make the world a better place. At this point I must wonder if I'm really helping at all. Though I might pick up the Starbucks cup lolling on the curb a mere yard from a garbage can, return the buggy at the grocery store from its place of desertion in the middle of a handicap spot or whatever, I feel like I'm treating symptoms and not the actual problem. And I'm sure, in some ways of which I'm oblivious because I have some ugly, arrogant tendencies, I contribute to the problem.
I could have talked to this man at the Publix. I could've pointed out what a bad example he was being for his daughter. I could've gotten into a check-out aisle brawl and gone home with shredded tabloid in my hair and cut knuckles. I could've made a difference but I chose not to.
Not my job, I suppose.
19 June 2008
This entire article reads like something I'd daydream after a family argument about work stuff. Oddly, I can't think of a recent (read: 12 years) family argument that hasn't involved work...
Anyway, like most people in this race of rat, somewhere along the line I've imagined leaving it all to wander Europe with just a linen suit and a notebook until I end up picking grapes in a vineyard in Provence. You hear about people who do this sort of thing and you "pff" it away as something that might work on paper, but what about the rest of your life? This begs the question, however, of what if that is the rest of your life? Toil. Sweat of the brow and all that. With few exceptions, work is work. And you can always find a reason to say something isn't a good idea.
So. The point of all this. Here's a guy who's spending 12 weeks in Europe on fewer than 100euros a day. In this post he works on a farm in the southwest of France.
Tending the Farm in Southern France
18 June 2008
I ran across a new Asian market the other day behind Dutch Square Mall. Since I find things like new markets interesting I thought I'd bring it up.
As is the way of our people (Asians in general, it seems) this market's name is Asian Market, Inc.
Quite a few Asian markets are named some permutation of this and I can only assume that those three Chinese characters read out something clever.
Anyway, it's exciting that it's there. It only opened up four months ago so they're not fully unpacked but, as it is, there are about five or so aisles filled to the brim with interesting things. At the far left there is a large selection of cooking equipment, from wire strainers (though these have recently become more widely available) to woks the size of ceiling fan. There were even these peculiar dowel-shaped things, two to a set, made of wood or plastic. Evidently, the Chinese use them to eat, somehow. Dashed odd, if you asked me.
The rest of the aisles are dedicated to dry goods. There was a wide selection of pickled things in jars, dry noodles, condiments, and ingredients galore. There were teas and other beverages.
On the far right there were some coolers and a produce area, the former offering frozen dumplings, packaged whole fish of varying types, and other delightful surprises. The produce area had several kinds of sausages as well as Thai basil, Chinese broccoli, durian, bean sprouts, and a few other fresh looking vegetables.
As is my understanding, they intend to offer cooked food, at some point. There was a kitchen being built and a deli-style display case stood empty and waiting next to an area ideally suited for tables and chairs.
So, in time, I hope this market becomes a wonderous place of shouting mah jongg games; live fish plucked from tanks, cleaned, and fried while you wait; old friends chatting over shumai and shots of Maotai; and a quiet room in the back with a single, hanging light bulb and a friendly, wizened old Chinese doctor ready to pluck the bullets from you and stitch you up, no questions asked.
16 June 2008
As a wine nerd, I think this is pretty funny. I found it at Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog
WHY DID THE CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD?
Napa Valley Vintners
"The question is not why the chicken crossed the road, but how much we can charge for a taste of that chicken."
"We are very confident that upon finally crossing the road, the chicken will fit in perfectly to our growing 'Across The Road' portfolio of chickens."
The Wine Spectator
Non Vintage Chicken—The Road
"This is a superb effort by the chicken that we haven't seen in a number of crossings. A lovely blend of supple movement and a robust gate propelled chicken across the street and to a finishing hop upon a smooth, well delineated sidewalk." 94 Points
"The chicken has gone completely overboard. This isn't a real crossing. It's a simple, fat dash that is one dimensional. It's time for the chickens to get back to making elegant, balanced crossings."
"Because we're changing the chicken world!!! One Crissy Cross at a time!!"
"The Chicken just wants to tear down the system. If the Chicken gets his way and continues to cross the street we'll see more chicks just get run over. I don't think that's what American Chickens want."
Robert Parker, Jr.
"I can't say why the chicken crossed the road. I've not been to a chicken crossing in that region since I was asked not to come there anymore by a number of chickens that didn't appreciate my appraisals of their crossings. However, I will be adding a new chicken crossings reviewer to the staff of the Chicken Advocate because our readers deserve thorough and expert coverage of crossings on that region."
"We wanted to create the greatest crossing ever! Our chicken is dedicated to hands-on crossings that highlight the terroir of the road. This is by far the finest crossing the chicken has ever offered."
The Wine Blogger
I don't care why the chicken crossed the road. I just blog about it for my own pleasure and to try to make chicken crossings more accessible to the average chicken. Before bloggers appeared on the scene the mainstream press ignored the average chicken crossing and focused only on Roosters. Bloggers are taking back Chicken Crossings and putting them in the hands of the chickens again!"
Jonathan Nossiter, Director of Mondovino*
It's the same old crossing—bland, simple, undistinctive. This chicken doesn't care about the character of the crossing. It merely wants to get to the other side and it's the kind of crossing that destroy the distinctive regional character that has defined chicken crossings for centuries.
Inertia Beverage Group
"We don’t care why the chicken crossed the road, we just want to help that chicken cross it faster, more efficiently, and more profitably.”
Jeff Stai, Twisted Oak
Because that's where the rubber (chicken) meets the road.
*If you haven't seen Mondovino, then I do suggest you seek it out. I found it to be very entertaining and informative. Nossiter definitely has an agenda but outside of that it's fun to watch old winemakers telling stories (Hubert Montille, especially, whose wines can be found at Green's, from time to time. I found his 2000 Volnay Taillepieds to be delicious), Nossiter converse easily in several languages (inspiring), and to see so many different, beautiful vineyards in a very personal, hand-held camera way.
Here are a couple of articles on the movie, if you're interested.
I generally don't eat breakfast for time and laziness reasons. Unless while travelling, when Leigh and I enjoy B&Bs.
And I generally don't eat cake. I like cake; I just don't seek it out.
For some reason, though, when cake is in the house (as it was this morning from a Father's Day cake Leigh's grandmother made) I find that I must have a slice with a cup of coffee.
So as I sat here, enjoying cake and coffee, a subject that comes up around the bar a lot drifted through my head: Columbia needs a good breakfast place.
Columbia needs quite a bit that could follow the word "good." Deli, for instance. A true deli with meat sliced on the spot and knishes and kugel and split-pea soup. The closest, in my estimation, would be Ela's on Forest Drive.
But a breakfast place, in particular, would be great. It could be combined with a diner into a 24hour format like the 5points Diner, whose closing I lamented. Hell, toss a deli in and serve interesting beer and wine and hot damn, you'd have something there.
A place where I can start my day on the way to work with a quick bagel (crispy on the outside, soft on the inside) and smoked salmon. Or, if i have time, eggs, pancakes and sausage. Then for lunch I'd swing by and wait in line for a cup of split-pea soup, a reuben and a pint of lager. Then after work, probably 11 or so, I'd stop in for a chili dog, a side of knishes and a dill pickle they'd have pickled in-store. Maybe I'd see at the end of the counter some friends with a pitcher of interesting beer and I'd go over and listen to them bicker amicably over why one prefers the London review of books over the New York review of books and I'd nod like I knew what they were talking about but suddenly find myself in a coughing fit if they asked me a related question. Perhaps dawn would find us moved to a booth, cups of coffee in hand, and deep in a conversation - I would've tried to avoid but found that I couldn't - about God, morality and faith. (I had this conversation the other night with Christine and a regular around the bar. I don't know how it got started and I tried to guide us out of it, but it happened. Came out well, though. Nobody got angry. We all got our points in without being talked over. Good talk.)
Anyway. We need a good breakfast place.
Someone get on that.
15 June 2008
Winery goes solar with 'floatovoltaics'
This is great. I wish I could afford to buy Far Niente to support them in this endeavor.
More's the pity,* I believe I was party to an unappreciated bottle of Far Niente four something years ago. During the wooing process, Leigh and I came across a bottle of Far Niente Cabernet that had mysteriously appeared in her wine cabinet. Nearest we can figure, it came from a client of hers. Neither of us recognized the name and we decided to pop it open. In and of itself not a bad idea but we'd already knocked back a couple of bottles and were in no position to enjoy this third one.
There should be a BAC starter engine equivalent for nice bottles of wine.
*am i using that phrase correctly?
13 June 2008
I felt like putting this up. I don't know why.
On Tuesday, my first day back to work, Alex and I were finishing lunch (Jimmy John's - 2 gargantuans & 2 BBQ chips) when we see two people approach the door. Now, this is nothing new during the lunch hour and the encounter is usually amicably concluded by telling them we're closed. From time to time this information will be met with incredulity, but that's an entirely different post. So these two stride in with purpose: a young man and woman - she in a plainish white cotton shirt and long pants, he (despite the mid-day heat) in a dark blue pinstripe suit and a black and silver tie with diagonal stripes over a black shirt with vertical stripes. So I'm judging all kinds of books before he walks in and right up to me. I don't care for that body language.
From here on out this post should ideally go to the upcoming generation of cold-calling, door to door salespeople as an illustration of how training and real-life differ.
Don't get me wrong; I like a confident person. Also, I have a degree in advertising so I'm fairly familiar with the basic tenets of salesmanship and marketing (at least circa 2003.) Foot-in-the-door and all that.
But I don't like it when a person is clearly trying to make you bodily step back, thereby establishing dominance. So as I walk up to the door, establishing with my body how far I'm comfortable with a stranger coming into my clearly closed restaurant, he doesn't stop walking until he's a tad too close to me. He smiles, leans forward (if he were taller I'm sure he would've tried towering imposingly) and introduces his friend and himself. He still doesn't give me anymore space - and it's my place so I'll be damned if I back up - so we end up talking for more than a few seconds close enough to each other so that if we were slow dancing in middle school, we'd have been separated by a chaperone. I finally learn they work for AT&T. I turn to Alex (from the waist so this guy doesn't slip around me) and ask if we're AT&T. Alex says we're Bellsouth. I twist back to this guy (who'll hereafter be referred to as This Guy) and he says, "Same thing, right?" with the kind of smirk that made me feel like he wanted me to high five him, as though AT&T was a friend of ours who'd been hitting on Bellsouth the previous night at a bar.
This Guy asks to use our phone and I consider the options for a second before I decide to see where this is going. So I break the stand-off and fetch him the phone. There's his foot in the door. With the benefit of hindsight, I should've crossed my arms and said "Phone's broke. Maybe y'oughta try next door." Live and learn.
First she goes off with our phone and sits in a corner while he sits at the bar and makes small talk. Weather. He's just moved to Charlotte. He's originally from Louisiana. Oh really, says I, I was just there. Where? Here, there. He mentions taking friends to Mardi Gras. Lived in Tampa. His best friend from Louisiana moved there, too. After maybe five minutes of, let's say, suspense he leans in a little and tells me in a conspiratorial whisper (since we're buddies now) that his companion is in training and she's going to come over and make a pitch. And he shoots me another smile that seems to say "You and I know the score but let's let the newbie play a little." I suppose if I felt the persistent need to be liked I'd feel included now, approved of and ready to help This Guy out. Unfortunately for your average salesman, being liked is gravy to me since I'd rather be respected and I don't feel respected when someone's trying to manipulate me. But I flatly say, "Sure." and he goes off to his corner and I continue to work. Perhaps another five minutes pass before I realize that nothing is being pitched to me and that maybe they're just tarrying in my restaurant to avoid going back out into the heat.
Finally they both come up to the bar but it's This Guy who's doing all the talking. He says we've got one line with no discount but he can give me two lines with a discount and we'll only pay a little more than what we're paying now. And he tries his first "So, let's go ahead and sign you up for that." I explain that we've gotten along quite well for 8 years without a second line. He suggests we're losing customers if we miss a call while we're running a credit card. I suggest that if a potential customer is too impatient to call back or listen to our message then they might be too impatient to eat here. Meanwhile, Alex, who'd gone into the kitchen but came back out, was leaning against the wall and exuding some impatience of his own. But he holds back, waiting for me to tag him if I get too tired of this.
This Guy tries another pitch with another deal and another "So I'm going to get you started with that, I just need your blah blah blah." Clumsy thrust. Parry. At one point he says "You're Thai food here, right?" I nod. "And I bet you're the best Thai food in town, am I right?" He gives me another one of those smiles and nods like he wants to fist bump over how delicious our food is. He goes on to say that he works with a lot of restaurants. Thai. Chinese. And he guarantees that what he's selling is going to give me all kinds of business orgasms. Again, not in so many words but it's all in his nods, smiles, suit, and five o'clock shadow.
I now desperately want to do business with him, slap my signature on all his papers, and take him and his trainee out for some JaegerBombs and booger sugar but aloud I tell him that we're doing pretty well with what we've got and we don't have the volume right now to take advantage of what he's offering. I suggest he leave some literature and a card and I'll call him if and when I think I can use his services. My smiles are still there but I've stopped trying to sell them.
Now it seems like This Guy's pride is on the line. I've got the feeling that during his pow-wow in the corner he told his trainee "All right, check this out. I'll do the talking, you watch and learn and I'll knock this out of the park, yadidimean." He brings out long distance. I tell him we've got it blocked and he responds smugly, "Yeah. We know. She got that information." I think his answer was designed to make himself feel better more than impress me. He goes on to say that he can give us long distance, bundle it with our package and...fake math in his head...we can save X amount of money. He starts writing on his sheet of paper. "So we're going to do that. Let me just get your name." As slick as that approach was I manage to resist and tell him that we don't need it. "Bundle bundle bundle save save bundle bundle." he says, or something along those lines. I tell him our cell phone plans are pretty good where long distance is concerned. "Bundle!" Pen stabbing at all that money I could be saving.
So now I'm done with this. I look at him and his trainee and say "Listen. Neither of you are going to make a move unless everyone is on board, right?" and I give him a This Guy smile and nod back. "Well," I point to Alex and myself. "This isn't everyone. I'm not going to make a decision without discussing this with all the principals. So. I'm going to hold on to this." Referring to the paper on which he's written all his deals."And if we decide we'd like to take advantage of your offer, we'll call you." He tells me those fabulous offers may not be around later. So I tell him, " Thank you very much for your time and this opportunity and we'll call you if we change our mind."
Civil to the end, despite all the opportunities he gave me to be an ass. They get up, shake my hand and he tells me it was good talking with me.
And they leave. And Alex and I shake our heads and go on with our day.
*Originally I'd accidentally written that his shirt had horizontal stripes. They were, in fact, vertical. I'd hate for that mistake to have given the wrong impression. His look was less comical and more freakin' awesome, as he'd have us believe.
11 June 2008
My brother, Alex, sent me this link for glasses someone has designed to illustrate the seven deadly sins. While, generally, I'm no fan of novelty wine glasses nor do I fancy myself a particularly (or traditionally) sinful person I do rather like a number of these designs. Perhaps not for drinking but at least in their creativity.
As there is no price listed I can only imagine these are far more expensive than I'd ever be willing or able to spend on glasses.
7 sins and 7 glasses